Monday, 8 December 2014

La Fondation Louis Vuitton by Frank Gehry

The Fondation Louis Vuitton

We had read about the newly opened Fondation Luis Vuitton and seeing it seemed to provide the ideal excuse for a short trip to Paris; we could also visit our friends Derek and Arlette who have just gone to live there. Derek joined us to see the Fondation.

Gehry is a veteran architect, probably best known for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. He is usually described as "Canadian-American" which seems to simply mean that he was born in Canada, as Frank Goldberg, but has lived for all his adult life in America. He is also not afraid of controversy, asked whether "'emblematic buildings' [presumably including his] would continue to be a feature of modern cities", he replied according to the Guardian, “In this world we are living in, 98% of everything that is built and designed today is pure shit. There’s no sense of design, no respect for humanity or for anything else. They are damn buildings and that’s it."

The Fondation was commissioned by Bernard Arnault, head of the LVMH luxury brand empire and the richest man in France, as a gallery for his collection of modern and contemporary art. It is located on the edge of the Jardin d'Acclimatation, a sort of zoo-cum-amusement park right next to the Bois de Boulogne.

We approached the Fondation through the Jardin d'Acclimatation and first saw it end-on. It was much larger than we expected and very dramatic. It seemed at first to suggest a giant ship which was somehow opening its bows to us. 

We headed round to the right to try to get a side on view and were distracted by this rather lovely tower. It turned out to be a dovecote built during the Franco-Prussian war as a base for carrier pigeons used to send messages. We never worked out whether it was built there or moved there at some later point.

This did lead us to a good vantage point to see the Fondation - the picture at the top of this post. We could now see that there were a number of large panels which somehow cloaked the building. It was hard to determine its overall shape, but we did see people moving about in the gaps between the panels - I have since see them described as "sails", which seems apt - and this was very intriguing. Derek offered the view that it was "bonkers". We viewed this as quite a positive assessment and were generally in agreement.

We headed inside and we delighted to find an exhibition of a hundred or so models used as part of the design process. It was a bit overwhelming and too hard to literally trace the design history, but it was fascinating to see how these architectural models were made - bits of wood, cotton wool and paper in some cases. This was the final proof of concept model that ended the pure design stage.

We hurried up to the top level to see what was up there and were simply thrilled to see that were a whole series of terraces linked by steps and walkways. Some parts were covered, some exposed. We also began to understand the elaborate engineering behind the sails.

The gaps in the sails were delightful: for example this view towards the office towers of La Defense off to the west.

When we had finally exhausted the considerable charms of the roof terraces, we headed down to basement, walked through a large gallery to find an interesting water cascade leading down to a small pool.

Just round the side was this curious walkway with yellow lights.

It was only when we walked right up to the wall that we realised the quite extraordinary effect that had been created.

So, it was eventually clear that what you have is a light, airy four storey building which houses a series of large spaces to display art works. This is cloaked and made mysterious and striking by the sails and other effects. It is a remarkable building and a great place to visit. My only real criticism is that it lacks a decisive silhouette.

Conditions: grey and cloudy.

Distance: maybe a mile and half.

Rating: five stars.

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